and Space, Limited
the most of the resources at hand when preparing the Thanksgiving
feast By B.A. Nilsson
you’re in charge of get ting dinner to the table, you know
that timing is everything. You want all the elements—the roast,
the vegetables, the potatoes, the breadstuffs—to arrive simultaneously,
wisps of steam still rising from what just emerged from skillet
In my house, I’ve been given permanent dinner duty, and pride
myself on coordinating those courses each evening. And it’s
just as they’re hitting the dining-room table that my wife
decides it’s time to browse for a beverage.
at Thanksgiving the dynamic is different. At least a dozen
hungry guests are waiting, and the atmosphere crackles with
anticipation. And it’s my time to show off the most inventive
preparations I can assemble, each year following a different
culinary theme as I try to showcase familiar ingredients in
Which is all well and good in an abstract, looks-great-on-the-menu
sense. What has happened far too often in real life is that
this idealized menu collides with the realities of kitchen
limitations, and I find myself lacking free burners or oven
It’s not a problem unique to the home kitchen. I’ve dined
at fancy restaurants where the specials of the night backfired
because they were all, say, sautée dishes and that’s all the
customers wanted—but I can’t say I’ve seen it often. And the
home kitchen is generally much more limited than what the
professionals have to work with.
So my holiday menu is now designed very much with practicality
in mind. And it’s a two-part consideration. First is the question
of prep and cooking space; second, the challenge of getting
finished dishes to the table together.
I’ve already been working this week on my menu breakdown.
Shopping lists are extrapolated from the recipes, and I make
a suspense calendar of what to cook when, typically starting
two or three days ahead.
That’s when the first round of dishes get finished, those
items that can be refrigerated and need only oven space on
Thursday. It’s always helpful to have a recipe or two in the
lineup like that, and something like a squash casserole—a
perennial favorite—is a natural. It’s also a good time to
peel potatoes, if that’s necessary, and then hold the naked
spuds in a container of water to prevent discoloration. (As
refrigerator space becomes a premium, I make use of a chilly
shed off the back of the house.)
This year’s Italian-themed menu calls for a couple of different
tomato-based sauces, which can use a day or two to allow the
flavors to further meld; similarly, any soup you plan to serve
will benefit from that extra time in the pot.
The night before is a big prep time for me. That’s when I’ll
make the fresh ravioli (filled with ricotta and spinach, served
with truffle oil) and churn the gelato for one of the desserts.
And then Thursday dawns. In one respect, it’s always the same:
coffee until noon, diet soda until about four, and then wine
for the rest of the night. But along with the libations is
a crescendo of activity, beginning with the morning’s grunt
work to settle the mise en place—slicing vegetables,
assembling roasts and prepping those potatoes (try slicing
them into a casserole dish atop a generous handful of sliced
onions, seasoning with salt and pepper and grated romano cheese,
filling the dish with chicken stock and baking the foil-topped
assembly in a hot oven until the potato tips have browned).
I usually promise dinner at about four o’clock; some years
I’m actually getting the food out by six. But I like to be
surrounded by the guests during that final couple of crazed
hours—usually there’s someone available to slice those mushrooms
I forgot to prep earlier, or to baste the bird.
That turkey tends to take over the oven, so we’ve learned
to press other cooking venues into service. A deep-fryer,
for instance, reduces the cooking time to an hour or so, and
turkey thus prepared is incredibly popular. And it’s done
outside, freeing space in both oven and kitchen.
Although my smoker seems to run all summer, cranking out ribs
and brisket and the like, it’s also an excellent turkey cooker,
turning the skin a crackling red while it deepens the meat’s
flavor. But give yourself a good six to eight hours for the
bird. (We also use it for other meats, like last year’s popular
And don’t forget the outdoor grill. Before I got the smoker,
I split the turkey cooking between oven and indirect charcoal
heat, with satisfying results. This year I’ll use it for grilling
One goal is to finish the courses so that nothing needs to
visit the microwave oven for a final shot of heat. That goal
is rarely achieved, but I try to err on the side of pulling
food off the stove too early—it’s always an embarrassment
to discover a pot of limp, yellowing broccoli neglected at
the back of the stove.
Inevitably, however, there’s an array of a la minute items
that jostle for heat as the dinner hour nears. Must it be
sautéed? I ask myself as I put together the menu, and therefore
end up with way too many items in the oven. So I’ve learned
to choose my bakeware accordingly, finding sizes that fit
together to take maximum advantage of the limited space.
The turkey is out and resting; fresh cranberry sauce (made
the day before, livened with Grand Marnier) is pulled from
the fridge. Beside the pot of mashed potatoes, just boiled
and rich with butter and cream, is a large skillet with cloves
of garlic rolling in olive oil, sizzling as the par-boiled
string beans hit.
Presentation dishes are arrayed on a counter, and I summon
a line of guests who, as I toss a chiffonade of parsley atop
the finished product, convey the platters to the candlelit
table. And the Thanksgiving meal begins.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
Moriarty’s (430 Broadway)
is holding a wild game dinner tonight (Thursday),
with a menu consisting of such unusual items as
appetizer preparations of ostrich and alligator,
and an entrée selection that includes moulard
duck, sliced buffalo sirloin and wild salmon,
as well as a mixed grill of wild boar, pheasant
and venison, all prepared by executive chef Jim
Kelly. For more info and reservations, phone the
restaurant at 587-5981. . . . Remember to pass
your scraps to Metroland (e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org).
want your feedback
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Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...
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very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's
at Ogdens. You review described my dining
experience perfectly. This wasn't the case
with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or
Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree
that a restaurant can have an off night
so I'll give the second unit on Central
Avenue a try.
yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back.
Second, I haven't had a chance to visit
Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading
would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant
- it's not that far away. People traveled
from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam.
From his background, I'm sure the chef's
sauce is excellent and that is the most
important aspect of an Italian restaurant.
Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on
the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm
looking forward to trying this restaurant
- I look forward to Metroland every Thursday
especially for the restaurant review. And
by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam
location and is opening a new bistro on
Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running
in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake
Bistro. It should be great!
comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants
being as "standardized as McDonald's"
shows either that you have eaten at only
a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or
that you have some prejudices to work out.
That the physical appearances are not what
you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing
on the food. And after all, that is what
the main focus of the reviews should be.
Not the physical appearances, which is what
most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on
Central Avenue, may not look the greatest,
but the food is excellent there. And the
menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian,
chicken, and more..